Porse Named Director of California Institute for Water Resources

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Erik Porse joined the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources on Jan. 11 as director of the California Institute for Water Resources.

Porse has built an outstanding career in water as a research engineer with the Office of Water Programs at California State University, Sacramento and an assistant adjunct professor with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. His research focuses on urban and water resources management. He specializes in bringing together interdisciplinary teams to investigate complex environmental management questions.

Porse earned a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering (water resources) from UC Davis and a master’s degree in public policy (science and technology) from George Mason University. His professional experience includes international work and teaching in Mexico, Europe, Japan and East Africa. He has authored over 50 reports and peer-reviewed articles.

“UC ANR is fortunate to have a director with broad professional experience in science and policy at the United Nations, the U.S. government, private sector firms and research laboratories,” said Deanne Meyer, UC ANR interim associate vice president for programs and strategic initiatives. “Erik’s recent research has collaborated with scientists and projects addressing priority areas in the California Water Resilience Portfolio, including safe drinking water, efficient urban water use, sustainable groundwater management, water reuse, beneficial uses of stormwater, and environmental finance.”

The CIWR is the California hub of the national network of water research institutes supported by the federal Water Resources Research Act of 1964 and provides and communicates solutions to complex water issues and will serve a critical role to support applied water research that tackles large problems with systems approaches, including groundwater recharge, water rights, irrigation management, water finance, and drinking water access. The CIWR works with scientists throughout California as well as through the national network to bring defensible solutions and alternatives to California’s water management community.

“Water is a necessity for life and management of water is essential for California’s economy and prosperity,” Meyer said. “Porse’s leadership with multidisciplinary research teams, water policy research, and integrated systems modeling will serve the CIWR and ANR for years to come.”

Porse succeeds Doug Parker, who retired in 2022 after 11 years as CIWR director.

2023-01-11T14:22:57-08:00January 11th, 2023|

Farmworkers at Risk for Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Say UC Researchers

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Better Access to Health Care and Safety Net Programs Would Help

Farmworkers are a crucial link in our food supply chain, a fact that came sharply into focus during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep these essential workers healthy, there is a need for more data on farmworkers’ health. A new study published by University of California scientists looks beyond work-related health concerns such as heat and pesticide exposure to the general health of the people who help plant, nurture and harvest food in California.

“The study findings confirm the high chronic-disease burden in a workforce that is considered essential but lacks adequate access to health care and safety net programs,” said Susana Matias, lead author and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. “This is a concern because California needs a healthy farmworker workforce. These workers are key to putting food on our tables and should be protected and supported as any other California worker.”

After reading the study, an advocate for women farmworkers said she sees opportunities to enhance farmworkers’ health by improving their working conditions by enacting policy governing work permits; childcare; pest management; unemployment benefits; access to healthy and affordable food; and safe, affordable housing.

To see a broader perspective of farmworker health, Matias analyzed data from three studies by Marc Schenker, UC Davis physician and professor emeritus. Schenker’s studies examined farmworkers’ general health, occupational injuries and important causes of illness and disease. Causes or so-called “social determinants” of disease include low income, food insecurity, undocumented immigration status, and poor housing conditions.

“Those social determinants are particularly negative and impact disease outcomes in the farmworker population,” Schenker said. “Too often farmworkers don’t have the benefits of other working populations, including adequate health care. It is hoped that recognition of this situation can lead to addressing these deficiencies and an improvement in farmworker health.”

Irene de Barraicua, director of operations and communications for Lideres Campesinas, said the study relates to much of the work her organization does advocating for women farmworkers.

“The article and studies emphasize findings that call for higher salaries, better working conditions, more worker rights and access to healthcare,” de Barraicua said. “From these findings, we can also gather that the health of farmworkers is impacted by various stress factors related to poverty, excruciating and unsafe work conditions, and lack of or costly childcare to name a few.”

Matias found that female farmworkers were at higher risk of obesity and larger waist circumference, while male farmworkers were at higher risk of high blood pressure and high total cholesterol.

“These differences in chronic health risks between farmworker men and women suggests that clinical and public health responses might need to be sex-specific,” said Matias, who is also co-associate faculty director at the Berkeley Food Institute.

The studies were conducted with farmworkers in Mendota, Oxnard and Watsonville. Matias would like to expand the scope to assess the health of farmworkers statewide.

“Our study is not representative of other regions of the state,” Matias said. “A representative survey is urgently needed in California to better identify and quantify the health problems in this population, and to provide the services needed by these essential workers.”

“The article ‘The Chronic Disease Burden Among Latino Farmworkers in California’ clearly brings to the forefront very important sociodemographic and socioeconomic ‘gaps’ unique to farmworkers, an essential segment of our population and workforce,” said de Barraicua of Lideres Campesinas.

“We need to enact policy that facilitates access to health care including mental health services; easily accessible, free rural and mobile clinics; telehealth services, essentially unrestricted healthcare coverage for all,” de Barraicua said, adding that trusted community health workers who know the farmworkers’ culture and speak their language are needed.

She also noted the growing population of indigenous Mexican farmworkers and face greater challenges related to language access, limited education and immigration status.

The article, co-authored by Matias, Schenker, UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Caitlin French and student Alexander Gomez-Lara, is published in Frontiers in Public Health.

2022-12-21T10:31:22-08:00December 21st, 2022|

Harvesting Light to Grow Food and Clean Energy Together

By Kat Kerlin, UC Davis

Different Light Spectra Serve Different Needs for Agrivoltaics

People are increasingly trying to grow both food and clean energy on the same land to help meet the challenges of climate change, drought and a growing global population that just topped 8 billion. This effort includes agrivoltaics, in which crops are grown under the shade of solar panels, ideally with less water.

Now scientists from the University of California, Davis, are investigating how to better harvest the sun — and its optimal light spectrum — to make agrivoltaic systems more efficient in arid agricultural regions like California.

Their study, published in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, found that the red part of the light spectrum is more efficient for growing plants, while the blue part of the spectrum is better used for solar production.

A door opener

The study’s results could help guide global interest in agrivoltaics and identify potential applications for those systems.

“This paper is a door opener for all sorts of technological advancements,” said corresponding author Majdi Abou Najm, an associate professor at the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and a fellow at the UC Davis Institute of the Environment. He conducted the study with first author Matteo Camporese of the University of Padova in Italy, who came to UC Davis as a Fulbright visiting scholar. “Today’s solar panels take all the light and try to make the best of it. But what if a new generation of photovoltaics could take the blue light for clean energy and pass the red light onto the crops, where it is most efficient for photosynthesis?”

For the study, the scientists developed a photosynthesis and transpiration model to account for different light spectra. The model reproduced the response of various plants, including lettuce, basil and strawberry, to different light spectra in controlled lab conditions. A sensitivity analysis suggested the blue part of the spectrum is best filtered out to produce solar energy while the red spectrum can be optimized to grow food.

This work was further tested this past summer on tomato plants at UC Davis agricultural research fields in collaboration with UC Davis Assistant Professor Andre Daccache from the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

Guiding light

In an era of shrinking viable land, understanding how plants respond to different light spectra is a key step toward designing systems that balance sustainable land management with water use and food production, the study noted.

“We cannot feed 2 billion more people in 30 years by being just a little more water-efficient and continuing as we do,” Abou Najm said. “We need something transformative, not incremental. If we treat the sun as a resource, we can work with shade and generate electricity while producing crops underneath. Kilowatt hours become a secondary crop you can harvest.”

The study was funded by a U.S. Department of State Fulbright Research Scholarship, UC Davis and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

2022-12-14T11:13:10-08:00December 14th, 2022|

USDA Farm-to-School Grant Open

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will award up to $12 million in competitive grants to eligible entities through the Farm to School Grant Program in fiscal year 2023. Each grant helps implement farm-to-school programs that increase access to local food in eligible schools, connect children with agriculture for better health, and inspire youth to consider careers in agriculture.

Grant application deadline is January 6, 2023.

Click here to learn more about how to apply.

2022-12-02T16:20:43-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

USDA Invites Ag Producers to Respond Online to the 2022 Census of Agriculture

By Jodi Halvorson, USDA

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) mailed survey codes to all known agriculture producers across the 50 states with an invitation to respond online to the 2022 Census of Agriculture at agcounts.usda.gov. The ag census is the nation’s only comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state, county, and territory. By completing the survey, producers across the nation can tell their story and help generate impactful opportunities that better serve them and future generations of producers.

The 2022 Census of Agriculture will be mailed in phases, with paper questionnaires following in December. Producers need only respond once, whether securely online or by mail. The online option offers timesaving features ideal for busy producers. All responses are due Feb. 6, 2023. Farm operations of all sizes, urban and rural, which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2022, are included in the ag census.

“The 2022 Census of Agriculture is a powerful voice for American agriculture. The information gathered through the ag census influences policy decisions that will have a tremendous impact on ag producers and their communities for years to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their ag census. This is your opportunity to share your voice, uplift the value and showcase the uniqueness of American agriculture.”

Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840 and now conducted every five years by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the Census of Agriculture is a complete picture of American agriculture today. It highlights land use and ownership, producer characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, among other topics.

“Our farmers and ranchers have an incredible impact on our nation and the world. I want to thank them in advance for responding to the ag census,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “We recognize how valuable their time is, so we have made responding more convenient and modern than ever before.”

Between ag census years, NASS considers revisions to the questionnaire to document changes and emerging trends in the industry. Changes to the 2022 questionnaire include new questions about the use of precision agriculture, hemp production, hair sheep and updates to internet access questions.

Responding to the Census of Agriculture is required by law under Title 7 USC 2204(g) Public Law 105-113. The same law requires NASS to keep all information confidential, to use the data only for statistical purposes, and only publish in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation. NASS will release the results of the ag census in early 2024.

To learn more about the Census of Agriculture, visit nass.usda.gov/AgCensus. On the website, producers and other data users can access frequently asked questions, past ag census data, special study information, and more. For highlights of these and the latest information, follow USDA NASS on twitter @usda_nass.

2022-11-23T08:55:01-08:00November 23rd, 2022|

Nitricity Selected for Elemental Excelerator Cohort of Climate Tech Startups

Leading climate tech investor, Elemental Excelerator, announced today their 11th cohort of investments, comprising 17 companies focused on climate technology and decarbonization. Renewable fertilizer pioneer, Nitricity, has been included in the cohort as part of Elemental Excelerator’s focus on climate resilience.

“Nitricity solves two crucial components of the food system’s emissions: removing fossil fuels from the production of fertilizer, and preventing the need to transport that fertilizer from across the world,” said Mitch Rubin, Director of Innovation, Elemental Excelerator. “We need local, renewable production of fertilizer to enhance our resilience to global fertilizer markets, given massive price increases this year. Nico and his team are extremely committed to improving how we grow food and providing better alternatives to farmers, and we’re very excited to be working with them.”

The investment and guidance from Elemental Excelerator will bolster Nitricity’s plans for growth, including operating its renewable fertilizer technology at scale in agricultural applications. The funding will support Nitricity’s ability to produce agriculture-grade climate-smart nitrogen fertilizers such as calcium nitrate to be tested in the field, with one such trial to be conducted in almond orchards in partnership with Olam Food Ingredients (ofi), a global leader in natural food ingredients and raw materials.

“The support from Elemental Excelerator and membership in this esteemed cohort will be an important catalyst for Nitricity’s next phase of growth,” said Nicolas Pinkowski, CEO and Co-Founder of Nitricity. “Our focus is now on scaling our technology to establish regionalized fertilizer production for farmers.”

Read the complete press release from Elemental Excelerator and learn more about Elemental Excelerator Cohort 11.

About Nitricity
Nitricity produces nitrogen fertilizer with only air, water and renewable electricity. Founded by a team of graduate students from Stanford University in 2018 – Nicolas Pinkowski serving as CEO, Joshua McEnaney serving as president and CTO, and Jay Schwalbe serving as CSO – the company is scaling its technology to provide cost-effective, regional, and decarbonized fertilizer production. For more information, please visit www.nitricity.co.

About Elemental Excelerator
Elemental Excelerator is a leading non-profit investor focused on scaling climate solutions and
social impact for all communities. Elemental fills two gaps that are fundamental to tackling
climate change: funding first-of-a-kind projects for climate technologies in real communities, and
embedding equity and access into climate solutions.

2022-11-02T12:51:42-07:00November 2nd, 2022|

UC Davis Nematologist: New Targets for Development of Nematode-Resistant Crops

By Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Davis

Newly published work by an international team of researchers, including lead author UC Davis nematologist Shahid Siddique, may result in new targets for the future development of nematode-resistant crops.

The open-access journal Nature Communications, published the peer-reviewed research Oct. 19.

“Plant-parasitic nematodes are a threat to crop production,” said Siddique, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “We used a combination of genomic, genetic, and biochemical approaches to show that the plant pathogen cyst nematode possesses an incomplete vitamin B5 synthesis pathway, of potential prokaryotic origin, which is complemented by its plant host. This approach has identified new targets for future development of nematode-resistant crops.”

The 33-member research team included scientists from universities in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom, as well as scientists from three universities in the United States: Iowa State University, Ames; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and UC Davis.

The article is titled “The Genome and Lifestage-Specific Transcriptomes of a Plant-Parasitic Nematode and its Host Reveal Susceptibility Genes Involved in Trans-Kingdom Synthesis of Vitamin B5.”

“The scarcity of classical resistance genes highlights a pressing need to find new ways to develop nematode-resistant germplasm,” the scientists wrote in their abstract. “Here, we sequence and assemble a high-quality phased genome of the model cyst nematode Heterodera schachtii to provide a platform for the first system-wide dual analysis of host and parasite gene expression over time, covering all major parasitism stages. Analysis of the hologenome of the plant nematode infection site identified metabolic pathways that were incomplete in the parasite but complemented by the host. Using a combination of bioinformatic, genetic, and biochemical approaches, we show that a highly atypical completion of vitamin B5 biosynthesis by the parasitic animal, putatively enabled by a horizontal gene transfer from a bacterium, is required for full pathogenicity. Knockout of either plant encoded or now nematode-encoded steps in the pathway significantly reduces parasitic success. Our experiments establish a reference for cyst nematodes, further our understanding of the evolution of plant parasitism by nematodes, and show that congruent differential expression of metabolic pathways in the infection hologenome represents a new way to find nematode susceptibility genes. The approach identifies genome-editing-amenable targets for future development of nematode-resistant crops.”

Corresponding authors are Florian Grundler of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn, Germany, and Sebastian Eves-van den Akker of the Crop Science Centre, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK.

2022-10-21T13:13:43-07:00October 21st, 2022|

Western Growers Premieres Video Series Featuring Next-Generation Agtech Robots

By Ann Donahue, Western Growers

From two-dimensional orchards to flying autonomous robots to lasers killing weeds, today’s agriculture combines the best of science and science fiction.

To celebrate the start of the first American edition of FIRA, the international agricultural robotics conference, WG debuts an inside look at cutting-edge technologies on the farm that will help ease the industry’s ongoing labor shortage.

The three short videos feature 2-D orchards of trees harvested via a self-propelled platform; flying autonomous robots working alongside harvest crews; and AI-directed blades and lasers that zap weeds with ruthless efficiency.

The videos are available in their entirety now on the Western Growers YouTube channel, and will be rolled out on WG social platforms. Click here for a playlist of all the videos; links for individual videos and their embed codes are available below.

Future of Tree Fruit Harvesting

Drone Harvest

Robotic Weeding

2022-10-18T09:41:17-07:00October 18th, 2022|

California Dairy Research Foundation Awarded $85 Million from USDA for Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Project

By Jennifer Giambroni, California Milk Advisory Board

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing up to $2.8 billion in projects selected under the first pool of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding opportunity. Applicants submitted more than 450 project proposals; 70 were selected for funding.

The California Dairy Research Foundation, in partnership with more than 20 other dairy organizations, was among the recipients. CDRF’s grant partners include California governmental organizations, corporations and cooperatives, universities, producer organizations, environmental organizations, and others. The USDA has established an estimated funding ceiling of $85 million for this project to advance climate-smart dairy farming; the final award will be granted in the coming months.

“CDRF is extremely pleased to have received this grant on behalf of the entire collaborative team. The project brings together organizations throughout the value chain to the benefit of our hard-working dairy producers and the environment. We look forward to working with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Milk Advisory Board, Dairy Cares, the universities and others to implement this advanced climate-smart ag project in California’s dairy industry,” said CDRF’s Executive Director Denise Mullinax.

Over the next five years, the project, “Partnering to Invest in and Build Markets for California’s Climate-Smart Dairy Producers,” will work to build climate-smart dairy markets and provide financial incentives for California dairy producers to adopt climate-smart manure management practices to reduce both methane emissions and nitrogen surplus and will leverage matching funding from non-federal sources.

“This funding represents the next critical installment and chapter in California’s world-leading dairy methane reduction efforts,” said Michael Boccadoro, Executive Director of Dairy Cares. “On-farm projects will be designed to not only reduce methane but will significantly improve water quality outcomes, ensuring broad benefits for our rural farm communities.

Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities is part of USDA’s broader strategy to position agriculture and forestry as leaders in climate change mitigation through voluntary, incentive-based, market-driven approaches.

“Dairy families in California continue to step up to ensure the agriculture sector contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “The partnership between the State and dairy families has resulted in significant methane emission reductions making California a national and international leader in supporting on-farm livestock methane reductions using climate-smart agricultural management approaches and other environmental benefits, including improved water quality from dairy farms”.

Other partners supporting this project are California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, California Milk Advisory Board, Dairy Cares, California Dairy Campaign, California Dairy Quality Assurance Program, Milk Producers Council, National Milk Producers Federation, Sustainable Conservation, Western United Dairies, California Farm Bureau Federation, University of California, Davis, University of California, Riverside, University of California Cooperative Extension, Truterra, California Dairies, Inc., Challenge Dairy Products, Nestlé.

2022-09-21T10:17:24-07:00September 21st, 2022|

World Agricultural Robotics Expo to Launch Oct. 18 in Fresno

Robots to ease labor shortage, climate concerns

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Drought, climate change and labor scarcity are driving farmers to seek new ways of accomplishing farming tasks. Sensors enable more precise application of precious irrigation water. Robotic machinery help plant, weed, prune and harvest, even in triple-digit weather. What other problems can technology solve?

World FIRA, the leading event in Ag Robotics, will launch FIRA USA in Fresno on Oct. 18, to provide autonomous systems and robots to California and North American growers.

Jointly organized between the French association GOFAR, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Western Growers Association and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Initiative, FIRA USA 2022 will bring together people with diverse expertise for three days of problem-solving, decision-making and planning.

  • WHAT: World FIRA (International Forum of Agricultural Robotics) to bring together representatives of the agricultural, technology and finance industries for a fresh approach to adapting to climate change and labor issues.
  • WHO: Specialty crop growers, robot manufacturers, scientists, technologists, startup owners and investors
  • WHEN: From Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 8 a.m. to Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. Free registration for journalists at https://avolio.swapcard.com/FIRAUSA22/registrations/Start.
  • WHERE: Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center, 848 M St, Fresno, CA 93721
  • VISUALS: Robots performing tasks such as planting, weeding and harvesting in the field Oct. 20 at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • SPEAKERS: Karen Ross, Secretary of the CDFA; Ben Alfi, Co-Founder of Blue White Robotics; Erez Fait, Co-founder of Agrinoz; Walt Duflock, Vice President of Vice President of Western Growers; Mark Borman, President of Taylor Farms California; Aubrey Bettencourt, CEO of Almond Alliance; Erez Fait, Chairman and Co-founder of Agrinoze; and more. See full list: https://bit.ly/3B8hGT6

The three-day event will feature ample opportunities to interview panelists, growers, robotics manufacturers and other participants. To learn more about FIRA USA , visit www.fira-agtech.com/event/fira-usa.

2022-09-21T10:10:50-07:00September 21st, 2022|
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